Formaldehyde: What is it and why should your insured be aware of this exposure?

By Carter McAuley, Administrative Assistant

What is Formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is a common chemical compound (often referred to as methylene glycol, formalin and oxomethane). It has applications in numerous industries. Not only can formaldehyde be found in building materials such as insulation and flooring, but also household products like paper towels and glue, hair and beauty products, and in medical laboratories in the form of embalming fluid and sterilizers.

Why is Formaldehyde a concern?

In recent years, studies have shown that prolonged exposure to elevated levels of formaldehyde can trigger asthma attacks, nausea, difficulty breathing and respiratory irritation, and headaches. It has been shown to cause cancer in lab animals.

Formaldehyde enters the environment through a process called outgassing, the gradual release of a gas or vapor. When used in building materials, formaldehyde is released as a gas into the building or residence. In pressed wood products, the outgassing occurs over time as the glue breaks down.

What does formaldehyde have to do with my insured?

Recently, a flooring supply company was featured on 60 Minutes due to testing that revealed much higher limits of formaldehyde than allowable under California law in their flooring products. Testing on samples from other states also revealed higher than allowable levels of formaldehyde. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, Center for Disease Control and the Federal Trade Commission are now conducting tests of the suspected products as well. The flooring supply company is now facing a class action lawsuit.

Formaldehyde exposure and the damages related to formaldehyde claims can reach into the millions of dollars. In 2013, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) settled a class action lawsuit over formaldehyde in the trailers provided to hurricane victims for upwards of forty million dollars.

Because formaldehyde is found in so many substances and products, it is an exposure that your insured may not realize they even have.

If you or your client are concerned about their potential formaldehyde exposures, Beacon Hill Associates can design insurance options to address those risks. Contact us for more information.

Learn more about other types of environmental exposures.

Information from this article was obtained from the following sources: